A Cook 6 Tips for Buying Kitchen Appliances

1. Does more expensive really mean better?

In general, yes. I found that more expensive dishwashers had better settings and service plans, and luxury-brand ranges had higher BTUs and a wider range of flame settings.

But there was one appliance that stymied me: the oven. During the renovation process, we stayed in two rental homes. One had a high-end oven that lost so much heat that it turned the kitchen into a sauna. The other had a midrange oven that functioned perfectly.

The secret: the door. While it’s true that fancy convection settings will go a long way toward cooking your food properly, nothing impacts the cooking process more than the heat itself

So when shopping for an oven, spend extra time in the showroom opening and closing the oven doors. Look at how they seal and ask the salesperson about the differences between seals and springs.

When in doubt, you’re likely to be happier with a less expensive oven with a proper door than with one that has a lot of bells and whistles but a mediocre seal.

2. What’s a good guideline for BTUs?

This is another case where more is not necessarily better. Unlike restaurant chefs, who require a lot of power on every burner for plenty of high-heat cooking, you’re more likely to want a wide variety of heat options for cooking all the different components of your meal.

3. Do I really need a double oven?

If you like to bake or entertain, then yes, a double oven is a worthwhile investment. But if you have a small family and don’t have people over very often, you can likely make do with a single oven and a microwave convection oven.

4. Will I ever use a warming drawer?

Does the sun rise in the east? Yes, you will use a warming drawer! You’ll use it to warm plates before serving family-style sides. You’ll use it to keep the kids’ omelets hot when they take forever to shower in the morning.

5. How high should my vent hood be?

This one took a while to figure out. Although the fan we chose was powerful, we felt the low end of where our manufacturer suggested placing the hood was too low, and I was wary of placing it on the high side, because I sear meat often.

6. Help! I don’t have enough space for a side-by-side fridge.

I love to prepare large meals ahead of time and freeze them, so I nearly had a heart attack when I discovered that our space wouldn’t accommodate the side-by-side fridge I’d been dreaming of.

Our solution came in the form of a pair of freezer drawers in our kitchen island. They aren’t as deep as the drawer on a bottom-mounted freezer-refrigerator unit, but pairing them up means that I have ample space for all of my gallon bags of homemade chicken broth and giant balls of cookie dough.

ESSENTIAL TIPS TO KNOW WHEN YOU NEED APPLIANCE REPAIR

REFRIGERATOR REPAIR

One of the first signs that your refrigerator is wearing down is when you can hear it running, especially if you hear loud rumbling sounds. Excess condensation or puddles in the fridge may indicate a sealing problem, a blocked drain tube, or a problem with temperature maintenance. Condensation or puddles under the fridge may point to a leak. If your refrigerator won’t cool, any number of problems could be causing the issue.

DISHWASHER REPAIR
One of the clearest signs that your dishwasher needs repair is if it’s not cleaning your dishes properly. If you always have to rewash or hand wash dishes after they’ve gone through the dishwasher, it needs to be repaired. Another sign is that it’s not using hot enough water to sanitize the dishes. If your dishes aren’t piping hot immediately after the wash cycle has ended, it’s not doing its job. A poor dishwasher seal could lead to a kitchen flood, and pooling water at the bottom means that it is not draining properly and could rust.

WASHING MACHINE REPAIR AND CLOTHES DRYER
A washer that shakes a lot could need repair. Unusual sounds from the washer usually indicate a strained motor due to overloading or improperly balanced wash loads. Water fill problems, including a clogged filter, twisted hose, and failure to agitate, should also be repaired. If the dryer does not get hot enough to dry the clothing within one cycle and you have not overloaded it, it may need repairs. Unusual belt noises or a failure to turn also indicate a problem.

OTHER HOME APPLIANCES
Other home appliances will also show signs of wear and tear due to regular use. Any appliance that makes unusual noises or fails to function efficiently or as designed will need repairs. Similarly, if it is past the service period, if you haven’t used it in a while, or if you purchased a used appliance, you may need to get it repaired.

A broken and unusable appliance reminds you how much you depend on it and just how expensive it was. If you get it repaired right away, you may be able to extend its life so that you don’t have to replace it right away. Inspect your appliances regularly and call on professionals for assistance with repairs. A professional technician can inspect and repair any issues long before they become a serious and costly problem.

How to Organize Your Refrigerator

A well-organized refrigerator keeps food fresh longer and lets you grab and go faster. Before you unpack groceries, spend a second thinking about the right place for everything.

Here are common sense ways to declutter and organize your fridge:

1. The front of the middle rack, near eye-level, is prime refrigerator real estate. Put priority items there, like leftovers you want eaten soon and healthy snacks. The back of the fridge is the coldest part. Store milk there, and it will stay fresh longer.

2. Don’t waste fridge space on food that doesn’t need to be chilled. Examples: fresh eggs from backyard chickens (though store-bought eggs do need refrigerating), ketchup, vinegar, jam, mayonnaise, and butter. Put those items in the pantry. You can store fresh eggs in a bowl on the counter for eight weeks.

3. Never put tomatoes in fridge, or they’ll get mushy; onions will soften; honey will thicken; potatoes will turn too starchy. Keep onions and potatoes in separate paper bags and store in a cool, dark place (a lower cabinet drawer is great).

4. Rectangular or square bins are your friends (round ones waste space, so don’t use them). Designate one for healthy snacks and another for breakfast foods like bagels and cream cheese. In the freezer, use one big bin for frozen veggies, rather than stuff individual bags into the freezer.

5. Use plastic placemats as shelf liners, which makes cleanup easier.

6. Place drippy food, like red meat and seafood, on the bottom shelf. That way it won’t drip too far.

How to Buy a Range

First Things First: Gas or Electric?

If you don’t have a gas supply to your house, the answer is easy. But if you can go with either gas or electric, budget and cooking preferences play a significant role in deciding. Also, some people prefer electric ranges because of safety issues — there’s no chance of a gas leak. Here’s food for thought:

Popularity: Electric smooth-top ranges are the best sellers because of price and performance. They account for more than 60% of all ranges sold.
Budget: Electric ranges are typically less expensive than their gas counterparts. However, gas ranges are usually cheaper to operate, depending on whether your natural gas rates are lower than your electricity costs.
Cooking preferences: Listen to your inner chef. Many cooks prefer gas ranges because the burner flame works as a visual temperature gauge and can heat things up quickly. Most bakers prefer electric ovens because of the consistent and even heat they generate.
Here’s a surprising fact: There are no federal energy regulations for consumer ranges, so you won’t find a model that’s Energy Star certified.

Types of Ranges and Costs

There are three standard freestanding range types: electric, gas, and dual-fuel (a gas stovetop with an electric-powered oven). Each type includes:

A stovetop (with a minimum of four burners — many premium models have five)
An oven (usually two racks and one oven — many premium ranges will have a larger oven with three racks or two ovens)
If you want your range to look like it’s built into your cabinetry, there are two additional options. Both are somewhat rare and may require special ordering through an appliance dealer:

Slide-in ranges. The range fits between two cabinets and the edges of the cooktop rest on top of the counters, eliminating gaps. They’re available in gas, electric, and dual-fuel range styles.
Drop-in ranges. They‘re fitted into a pre-built cabinet opening with a cabinet panel across the bottom. The panel eliminates the bottom storage drawer typical of most ranges. They’re available in electric power only.

1. Electric ranges

Electric ranges feature three options for cooktop heating elements.

Coil-top models have exposed heating elements. Cookware goes directly on the elements. They’re the least expensive ranges you can buy ($389 to $650) and typically are available in only two colors: black or white. Features include:

Porcelain-enamel cooktop finish
Indicator lights that let you know when the burner’s coil heating element is on
Dials and knobs for oven and burner control
Coil-top ranges at the top end of the price range usually include:

Digital displays for heating temperatures and cooking times
Single storage drawers for cookware
Large oven windows
Drawbacks:

Coil heating elements are slow to heat up and cool.
Heating elements must be removed for thorough cleaning.
Indicator lights only go on when the cooktop’s coils are switched on, but not when the coils are off but still hot (and cooling down).
Coil cooktops tend to distribute heat unevenly.
Smooth-top models have solid disk or radiant heating elements beneath a one-piece ceramic glass cooktop that makes cleanup easy. Smooth tops are the best-selling ranges because of their performance, price, and good looks.

Mid-range models start at $550. Standard features typically include:

Standard electric ovens
Electronic oven controls with preset cooking options and digital displays
Indicator lights that let you know when the heating elements are on and when the surface area is hot and cooling down
Self-cleaning functions
Premium smooth-top ranges include fast-cooking convection ovens that use fans to circulate heat so foods bake or roast more quickly and evenly; they can slash cooking times by up to 30%. Premium models start at around $900 and typically include:

Hidden heating elements (rather than an exposed wire element sitting on the bottom of the oven’s interior) for easier oven cleaning
Warming centers that keep prepared foods warm
A fifth stovetop heating element
Smooth-top models with two ovens start at around $1,300.

Drawbacks:

Glass ceramic surfaces are a cinch to clean but prone to scratching.
You can’t use cast-iron, stoneware, or glass cookware on the cooktop because they can scratch. Also, glass and stoneware are poor heat conductors, which increases cooking time. The intense heat that cast iron creates can actually shut down the range. Stainless steel and copper are best.
Overheated metal cookware may bond with the cooktop’s glass ceramic surface.
Induction-top models are known for speedy stovetop cooking. Their burners don’t generate heat like other stovetops. Instead, they use magnetic technologies to turn compatible cookware into a heat source. If you can stick a magnet to your cookware, you can use it. As a result, the induction top’s glass ceramic surface remains cool to the touch.

Induction stovetops can boil water about 50% faster than other stoves. They’re also energy-efficient; 90% of the energy they generate is used to cook food (a standard electric stovetop uses about 65% and a gas stovetop uses 50%).

They’re typically equipped with convection ovens which speed cooking time by using fans to circulate and boost heat transfer.  Induction ranges include:

Control lockouts that prevent the range from being accidentally turned on
Touch screens instead of knobs and dials
Hidden baking elements for easier cleaning
Warming drawers
Drawbacks:

Not all your pots and pans will be compatible with the induction stovetop. Aluminum, copper, glass, and some types of stainless cookware won’t work.
They’re expensive.
2. Gas ranges

Besides the visual control of the flame and quick, uniform heating, benefits include:

Compatibility with all cooktop and oven cookware
Surface burners and ovens that still work when the power goes out (but not a fan-driven convection feature)
Lower operating costs than electric ranges — depending on your local utility rates
Heat output for gas range burners is described in Btu (British thermal units). Burners range from 5,000 to 20,000 Btu. Ranges with high-heat burners usually cost more.

General retail price range: Standard models are the least expensive gas ranges you can buy and typically are available in two basic colors: black or white.

Porcelain-enamel cooktops
Burners that don’t burn as hot as more expensive ranges (average 9,500 Btu)
Storage drawers
Cast-iron grates over the burners
Dials and knobs for oven and burner control
Oven windows that are typically much smaller than those on more expensive models
Mid-range models start. Features typically include:

High-performance burners (up to 12,500 Btu)
Digital settings for cooking times and temperatures
Storage drawers for pots and pans
Oven control lockouts that stop unintended changes to oven settings
A self-cleaning oven
Easy-to-clean steel grates over the burners
White, black, and stainless steel color options
Premium models start at around $1,000; double-oven-type gas ranges start at around $1,600. Features typically include:

High-performance burners (up to 17,000 Btu)
A bonus fifth burner
A removable stovetop griddle
Electronic control panels for programmed cooking times
Convection ovens
Hidden baking elements for easier cleaning
. They’re wider than standard ranges and have large oven capacities of 5.8 cubic feet and more. Additional features typically include:

A bonus fifth burner, with one being a super-hot burner of up to 20,000 Btu
Two convection ovens
Heavy-duty rollout cooking racks
Multiple color and metal options
Drawbacks:

Gas ranges tend to be more expensive then their electric range counterparts.
You need a natural gas line hooked up to your kitchen.
3. Dual-fuel ranges

These ranges combine the best of both worlds: a gas stovetop that chefs love with an electric-powered oven that provides even heat for baking. They come with a premium price tag of $2,000 to $7,500.

Features include:

Gas stovetops with five burners
One or two electric convection ovens
Glass touch screens for burner and oven controls
Wi-Fi-enabled programming so you can control oven features with your personal device
Size Does Matter

Freestanding ranges typically fall into two conventional widths: Standard ranges are approximately 30 inches wide; dual-fuel and pro-style gas ranges are 36 to 48 inches wide.

You’ll need to make sure your range’s oven cavity size is large enough to accommodate your cooking needs:

2 to 3 cubic feet will accommodate households with one or two people.
3 to 4 cubic feet will accommodate households with three or four people.
4 cubic feet and up will accommodate households of four or more.
Want to Color Your World?

Unlike refrigerators and clothes washers that are available in fashion-forward shades like ruby red or apple green, mid-range and premium ranges are typically available in shades of black, white, and stainless steel. You’ll have to look at pro-style ranges to get custom colors such as red, blue, and green.

Features and Functions You Should Have

We think the features that pack the most value for homeowners are the ones that boost convenience. Here’s a list of best bets:

Lots of rack positions so you can create room in your oven for additional or tall items when needed. Most ranges have five (yea!) but some lower-price ranges will not (boo!).

Hot surface lights on electric stovetops will let you know if the burner area is too hot to touch. You won’t find this feature on most coil-top electric ranges.

Double ovens will allow you to cook multiple items at different temperatures. Keep in mind you’ll sacrifice the convenient storage drawer for the extra oven.

A high heat burner is desirable for quickly heating up large quantities and for searing foods.

Warming drawers keep cooked foods warm prior to serving.

A self-cleaning cycle makes cleaning your oven less of a chore.

Sabbath mode settings allow observant Jews to preprogram oven settings so cooked foods remain warm during the Sabbath when cooking is forbidden.

Features You Shouldn’t Pay More For

You shouldn’t buy a range just because it has some of the following features. (Some features are standard on ranges with electronic screens.)

The delayed-start feature allows you to program your oven when to turn on, and Wi-Fi-enabled features allow you to control your oven when you’re not home. The National Fire Protection Association says you should never operate your oven when you’re not home to check on it regularly.

Low-powered burners with extra-low settings aren’t necessary because burner output can be easily adjusted.

Kitchen Remodeling Tips

A functional kitchen can include old appliances, but this does not mean that they make for the most enjoyable experience in the kitchen. For families that love to cook and eat together, the kitchen naturally becomes one of the most important room in the entire house. While the living room might be the traditional place to spend time with family and friends, it is not impossible for this to be the kitchen.

Following a few kitchen remodeling tips on installing new appliances can help you turn your old and outdated kitchen into one that provides you with modern features and an incredible experience.

Refrigerator

Modern refrigerators range from models that meet your basic needs to ones that have a Wi-Fi connection and can tell you the weather for the day. Also, as refrigerators take advantage of new technology, they become more capable of storing food in an ideal manner to prolong freshness, which is ideal for leftovers.

Analyzing your wants, needs, and budget before investing in a new refrigerator will ensure that you are able to find a model that comes with all of the features that make your family happy.

Dishwasher

Hand washing dishes is inevitable, mainly because you are bound to have dishes that are not dishwasher-safe. However, it is still nice to have a dishwasher that you can use for the majority of your dishes. All it takes is just a couple of minutes to fill an empty dishwasher and turn it on.

Microwave

Although a built-in microwave is not a necessity, you will find that it is an excellent addition to your home. Even if you have a kitchen with plenty of counter space, you can almost never have enough. While a built-in microwave might take up an area where a cabinet or two could be, it is still a better trade-off.

Range

Ranges come in a variety of types and styles, including gas and electric. Switching from gas to electric or electric to gas is generally not worth the expense, so it is the styles and features that you should focus on. For instance, you might want a double oven, dual heating elements, or a self-cleaning option.

Grilling Safety

Tip 1: Barbecue only outside

Firing it up in your home, trailer, tent, or any partially enclosed area is dangerous. If the carbon monoxide doesn’t kill you, your neighbors might, especially if you set off your building’s sprinkler system by grilling on your covered balcony.

Tip 2: Grills heat up to 650 degrees or higher

Always place your grill or hibachi on a non-flammable surface. For additional protection, place a heat-resistant pad or splatter mat beneath the cooker. And FYI, plastic has an average melting point of 150 degrees.

Tip 3: Protect your home and family

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you should barbecue at least 10 feet away from your house or any structure. Children and pets should stay at least 3 feet away from the grilling area. Just in case you need a little convincing, this visual should drive the point home.

Tip 4: Lighter fluid can be dangerous

Before starting a fire, soak coals with an accelerant made for charcoal. Never use lighter fluid on hot briquettes. Doing so causes the fluid to vaporize and become explosive. The result could be a charbroiled yard and home.

Tip 5: Proper grilling attire

Take a cue from this grill master: Don’t wear loose or baggy clothing while flipping burgers. This includes aprons, especially when your back is turned.

Tip 6: Utensils are not toys
Of course you want to keep your guests entertained at your next barbecue, but remember, playing with sharp utensils can be dangerous. You could poke an eye out or skewer a feathered friend.

Green Clean Your Refrigerator 3 Cool Ways

We all love the look of stainless steel refrigerators—until they’re plastered with greasy, grimy fingerprints. Inside, the problem is less about shine than it is about fragrance, namely foul food odors that linger long after the food is gone. And then there are the sticky shelves. Fortunately, you can green clean your refrigerator safely and effectively using environmentally safe cleaning products you make yourself.

Green clean your refrigerator’s exterior

Commercial surface cleaners can run upwards of $10 a bottle, especially those designed specifically for stainless steel appliances. Commercially sold green cleaners are no cheaper. Try this solution instead: Add a few drops of a natural dishwashing liquid such as Mrs. Meyer’s ($4.50 for 16 ounces) or Method ($4 for 25 ounces) to warm water. Use the solution to wipe away refrigerator fingerprints, remembering to follow the steel’s natural grain.

Green clean your refrigerator’s inside

To green clean the interior of your refrigerator, whip up a batch of non-toxic solution by combining equal parts vinegar and tap water. To boost the solution’s cleaning power, warm it in a glass bowl in the microwave. At $4 for a 64-ounce jug of food-grade vinegar, you can mix up big batches for just pennies. In contrast, commercial green cleaner like Seventh Generation sells for about $5.

Keep the inside smelling fresh

You can’t top good old baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate, for absorbing nasty food odors. The naturally occurring substance in baking soda neutralizes the odor-causing acids in the air, rather than simply mask them. At about a buck a box, it’s tough to beat. Save money by buying the baking soda in bulk. You should plan on swapping out the box every three months.

10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

Spending less money on utility bills doesn’t mean you need to rush out and purchase a whole new suite of Energy Star appliances. With occasional light maintenance and good habits, you can greatly improve the energy efficiency of your large kitchen appliances — up to about $120 annually — without sacrificing convenience.

Refrigerator/freezer

Energy-efficiency experts tell us to focus our efforts on the biggest energy hogs in the house, and that definitely includes the fridge. Because it cycles on and off all day, every day, the refrigerator consumes more electricity than nearly every appliance in the home save for the HVAC systems. The average refrigerator costs about $90 per year to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

1. Adjust the thermostat. By setting the thermostat colder than it needs to be, you might increase your fridge’s energy consumption by as much as 25% on average. Adjust the refrigerator so that it stays in the 37-40 degrees F range. For the freezer, shoot for between 0-5 degrees F. You could save up to $22 per year. If your model doesn’t display the current temps, invest in two appliance thermometers (one for the fridge, one for the freezer).

2. Clean the coils. As dust accumulates on the condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the fridge, it restricts cool-air flow and forces the unit to work harder and longer than necessary. Every six months, vacuum away the dust that accumulates on the mechanism. Also, check to see that there is at least a 3-inch clearance at the rear of the fridge for proper ventilation.

3. Use an ice tray. Automatic ice makers are a nice convenience, to be sure, but it turns out the mechanisms are energy hogs. An automatic ice maker can increase a refrigerator’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%, according to Energy Star. By switching off the ice maker and using trays, you can save about $12 to $18 off your annual electricity bill. Most units require little more than a lift of the sensor arm to switch them off. To reclaim the space remove the entire unit, a simple DIY job on many models.

4. Unplug the “beer fridge.” Many homes have an extra fridge that runs year round even though it’s used sparingly. Worse, these fridges tend to be older, more inefficient models. By consolidating the contents to the main fridge and unplugging the additional unit, you eliminate the entire operating cost of a fridge. The second-best solution is to make sure the extra fridge remains three-quarters full at all times. The mass helps maintain steady internal temps and lets the fridge recover more quickly after the door is opened and closed, according to the California Energy Commission.

Ovens and ranges

“Green” cooking all comes down to proper time and space management. By using gas and electric stoves more effectively, you can painlessly save a few dollars a year.

5. Cut the power early. As anybody who’s ever bumped a burner on an electric stove can attest, those heating elements stay hot long after they’ve been switched off. Put that residual heat to work by shutting off the burner several minutes before the end of the cook time. The same technique can be applied to the oven. The savings can add up to a couple bucks every month.

6. Match the burner to pan. When a small pan is placed on a big burner you can practically see the money disappearing into thin air. By matching the burner to the pan, electricity won’t be squandered heating the kitchen rather than the food. The reverse is true, too. A small burner will take considerably longer to heat a large pan than would an appropriately sized burner. For gas stoves, don’t let the flames lick the sides of the pot. Follow these tips and watch the utility bills shrink by a few dollars a month.

7. Do away with preheating. You can save about $2 a month by not preheating your oven (20 cents per hour to operate electric oven; eliminate 20 30-minute preheats a month). Many cooks agree that the practice is wholly unnecessary for all but a few recipes, namely baking breads and cakes. This approach may add a few minutes to the overall cooking time, but it eliminates all that wait time on the front end.

Dishwasher

As with washing machines, most of a dishwasher’s energy needs go to heating the water. Still, says Lane Burt, an energy policy analyst with The Natural Resources Defense Council, a 10-year-old dishwasher can be made nearly as efficient as a newer model simply by knowing when and how to run it.

8. Manage the load. Most dishwashers use the same amount of water and energy whether they’re run full or half-full. You can cut your operating costs by one-third or one-half by running the machine only when it’s full. It costs about $54 to run a pre-2000 model dishwasher per year, based on government data.

9. Activate energy-saving features. A dishwasher’s heated dry cycle can add 15% to 50% to the appliance’s operating cost. Most machines allow the feature to be switched off (or not turned on), which can save $8-$27 per year, assuming an operating cost of $54 annually. If your dishwasher doesn’t have that flexibility, simply turn the appliance off after the final rinse and open the door.

10. Use the machine. Many homeowners believe they can save water and energy by hand washing dishes. The truth is that a dishwasher requires less than one-third the water it would take to do those same dishes in the sink. By running the machine (when full), you can cut down the operating time of the hot water heater, your home’s largest energy hog. Not only will you save a buck per month, you won’t have to do the dishes.

10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Laundry Room

Get the Most From Your Washer

Ninety-percent of the cost of running a washer goes to heating water. Only 10% goes to electricity needed to run the motor. Here’s how to save money while getting your clothes clean.

1. Use cold water. You can save a bundle by washing your clothes in cold water, which is a perfectly efficient way to clean most clothes. Washing a load in cold water costs only about 4 cents, compared to washing in hot/warm water for 68 cents. Annually, you’ll save $40 with an electric water heater and $30 with a gas water heater.

2. Run full loads. It takes as much electricity to wash a small load as it does a full one, so you’ll save money by only washing full loads.

3. Update your machine. If you don’t already have an Energy Star-certified washer, it’s time to get one. These energy-efficient machines use 15 gallons of water per load, compared to 23 gallons for a standard machine. If a gallon of water costs you a penny (the U.S. average), you’ll save $24 a year.

4. Buy a front-loading machine. They use two-thirds less water than top-loaders, reducing water and heating costs.

Get the Most From Your Dryer

5. Spin faster. The faster you spin clothes in the washer, the less time they’ll need in the dryer. If you have the option, chose a faster spin cycle.

6. Clean lint filters. Remove lint after every load, and clean ducts annually. Your clothes will dry faster, using less energy.

7. Warm it up. If possible, locate your dryer in a warm laundry room rather than in a cold basement. The warmer the air coming into the dryer, the less energy your machine will use to heat it up.

8. Go gas. Drying a load of laundry in a gas dryer generally costs 15 to 33 cents less per load than an electric dryer (32 to 41 cents).

9. Keep it full. Dry only full loads, and try not to mix fast and slow-drying clothes — a practice that wastes energy by continuing to dry clothes that are no longer wet.

10. Let nature help out. When the weather is warm, cut your energy costs by drying clothes outside on a clothesline. If HOA regulations don’t allow you to set up a clothesline outside, then use a stand-alone drying rack inside.

Simple Fixes for Common Appliance Problems

At least a quarter of all appliance repair calls are resolved with no-brainer solutions like pushing a button or flipping a circuit breaker. Learn what to look for and how to avoid these expensive lessons.

Disposer

Look for a reset button

If your disposer won’t start, push the reset button and give it a spin.

Turn the blades to loosen a jam

Don’t put tea bags or too many potato peels all at once into your disposer. That’s a sure way to clog it.

All disposers have an overload feature that automatically shuts off the power when the motor becomes overloaded and gets too hot. Once the motor cools, simply push the reset button on the side of or under the unit.

On the other hand, if it hums but doesn’t spin, it may have something stuck in it. Switch the disposer off, then try working through it by turning the blades with a special disposer wrench (sold at home centers) or by turning a bottom bolt. Many disposers have an Allen wrench for that purpose, inset on the bottom of the machine.

Lights

Hit the reset button

If the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped, look for a GFCI.

When a light goes out or a switch doesn’t work, you should first check the main electrical panel for a tripped circuit breaker. But don’t stop there. Before you change out light bulbs and switches, see if a GFCI outlet (which may be upstream from the troubled light or outlet) has tripped. Sometimes all the bathrooms or the outside lights are powered through a single GFCI located in one bathroom or elsewhere, such as in a basement. Simply push the reset button on the GFCI and you could be back in business.

Refrigerator

Clogged coils

Clean the coils if your refrigerator isn’t cooling or conks out

Coil brush

Coil brushes are sold at appliance stores and home centers.

If your refrigerator conks out on a hot day and you have a cat or a dog, immediately check the coils for pet hair. Service pros find this problem on half of their refrigerator calls. The coils are the black tube-and-wire grid that cools the fluid in the compressor. A buildup of hair will cause the compressor to overheat and trigger the overload switch. On many fridges, you get to the coils by opening the grille at the bottom of the refrigerator. Then push a coil cleaning brush (sold at home centers) into the coils, pull it back and vacuum it clean.

If the coils are located on the back, pull out your fridge (it’s often on rollers) and brush them off. Bonus: The clean coils will cool more efficiently and save you money on your utility bill!

Once the overload switch is tripped, you may have to wait a few hours for it to cool. It will reset itself and turn the refrigerator back on.

Gas stove

Clean the igniter

If the burner won’t light, try cleaning the igniter.

Igniter closeup

Dirty igniters are the most common problem. It takes only a minute to clean them.

If your stove burner won’t come on, the likely culprit is the spaghetti sauce that boiled over a few days ago. Use a toothbrush to clean off food spills from the igniter. On an electronic ignition stove, it’s a little ceramic nub located either on the stovetop or under the ceramic seal strike plate. Also make sure that the round ceramic seal strike plate is properly seated on the burner.

Electric range

Burner prong problem

Spread the burner prongs a little to create a better electrical connection.

If your electric stove burner won’t heat, turn the burner off and pull it out from its socket. Then plug it in again and wiggle it around. If it feels loose, remove the burner again and gently bend the burner prongs slightly outward for a tighter connection. Easy does it. You could end up pushing the whole socket out of its bracket.

Standing pilot gas range

Pilot light hole

Try cleaning the pilot hole, then relight.

To access the ignition system in an older-style standard gas range, pop the lid. It’s usually hinged on the back side. If the pilot flame is out, poke a needle into the pilot hole to clean out soot (be careful not to ream it wider). Brush off any debris and clean the tube that leads from the pilot to the burner. Then relight the pilot.

Electronic oven controls

Programming snafu

Oven won’t heat? Check the clock and the timer setting. It doesn’t always do what you think you told it to do.

Blame it on the technology. It so happens that if you set the “time cook” function, the oven, much like a programmed VCR, won’t turn on until the appointed time. You may have done this inadvertently, but if your digital display reads “hold,” “delay” or “time cook,” then the timer is engaged. You’ll have to clear it first by pushing the “off” button. On ovens with dials, be sure the knob is turned to “manual.”

Washer

Level the front

Quiet a noisy washer by leveling it.

Leg adjustment

Turn the leg up or down, then lock it in place by tighting the locking nut.

When a washing machine cabinet rocks, it makes a horrible racket during the spin cycle. The solution is to simply readjust the legs. Screw the front legs up or down until the cabinet is level. When both legs are solid on the floor, tighten each leg’s locking nut. In most washers, to adjust the rear legs, gently tilt the machine forward and gently lower it down. The movement will self-adjust the rear legs.

Dryer

Wrong setting?

Before calling the repairman, check the dryer settings—just in case.

Dryer sheet residue

If your clothes are still damp after a normal cycle and you use dryer sheets, check the filter.

Our expert repairman responds to many “dryer-not- heating calls” only to find that the machine is set to “fluff air”—a non-heat setting. Avoid the embarrassment. Check the settings first.

Another common cause of poor drying is a clogged lint filter. The filter may look clean, but it may actually be covered by a nearly invisible film caused by dryer sheets. This film reduces airflow and forces the thermostat to shut off the heat before your clothes are dry. Test your filter by pouring water into it. If the filter holds water, it’s past time to clean it. Pull out the filter and scrub it in hot water with a little laundry detergent and a stiff kitchen brush.

Also check the outside dryer vent for any lint that may have built up there. The louver door–style vent covers are notorious for lint buildup, which traps heat and turns the heat off in the dryer. Pull the cover completely off to get to these clogs.

Air conditioner

Check the fuses

If your AC won’t come on, the thermostat may be saying no.

Fuse block

Pull the fuse block and have them tested at a hardware store.

If you turn your central air conditioner on, off and then on again in rapid order, chances are you’ll blow a fuse or shut off a circuit breaker or the air conditioner simply won’t respond. That’s because the compressor (in the outdoor condensing unit) may have stopped in a high compression mode, making it difficult to start until the compression releases. Older condensing units may switch the compressor on anyway, which causes the circuit to overload and blow a fuse. Newer, “smarter” condensing units will prevent this blunder by delaying the AC’s “on” function for a few minutes. It’s easy to mistake this delay with a faulty air conditioner. Be patient and give the air conditioner about five minutes to come back on.

To determine if you have a blown fuse, locate the special fuse block near the outside unit. Pull out the block and take the whole thing to the hardware store. A salesperson can test the cartridge fuses and tell you if you need to replace them.

Another simple reason your AC might not come on: You’ve signed up for a cost discount with your electric company in exchange for limited air conditioning during high-demand periods, and you’re in an “off” period. If you can’t remember, call your electric company to find out. You don’t want to pay the repair technician to drive out and explain this program to you!

Dishwasher

Clean out debris

Clean the filter and float switch if the dishes don’t come out clean.

When your dishwasher no longer gets your dishes clean, a food-filled filter is most often to blame. If it’s clogged, water can’t make it to the spray arms to clean the dishes in the top rack. The fix takes two minutes. Simply pull out the lower rack and remove the filter cover inside the dishwasher. (Check your owner’s manual if you can’t spot the filter.) Then use a wet vacuum to clean off the screen.

While you’re there, slide the nearby float switch up and down. If it’s jammed with mac and cheese, you won’t get any water. If the cover sticks, jiggle it up and down and clean it with water.